Proper 18C / Ordinary 23C / Pentecost +13

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Rally Day – September 8, 2019
Webster’s Dictionary defines “rally” as:

  1. a verb “to draw or call together for a common purpose”
  2. a noun meaning “a renewal of energy in joint action”

Well here we are called together for a common purpose. What exactly is that purpose? What will be our joint action? We have been drawn together as followers of Jesus Christ and members of this particular community. We rally together to live our Christianity. I’ve come to realize, being a Christian is a way of being, a way of living, a way of doing things differently because of living “in Christ” (to borrow Paul’s favorite phase). Yet for much of my ministerial career I’ve preached and written as if it’s primarily a way of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I love theology and believe it has an important place in the church. But sometimes I wonder if part of our decline is that we’ve spent so much time stressing what we need to think and believe instead of talking about what we can and should — indeed, are called to — do.

Before anyone calls the theological police, let me assure you that I’m not talking about earning our salvation or justifying ourselves by our works. Grace, salvation, right relationship with God — these are all gifts beyond either our ability or comprehension. But then what? Do we really imagine that the assurance of salvation is all there is to the Christian life? Does Christianity have nothing more to contribute to the way we live our life in the world?

That is why this passage — this difficult and demanding passage — has so much to offer. Because in this part of the story, Jesus asks his disciples both then and now to sacrifice. Actually, he doesn’t ask. He tells us that he expects, even demands, undivided loyalty (and it’s where the hyperbolic language of hating comes in). This is why we are asked to count the cost — because the Christian life is expensive, it demands our commitment in terms of our time, attention, and money. Again, let me be clear, I’m not talking about salvation. That’s done, over, finished and completed by God’s grace alone. So can we move on? Can we talk not only about justification but also discipleship? Because that’s what Jesus is talking about here, the cost of discipleship.

Hasn’t the notion of sacrifice itself become something of a taboo in our world of easy convenience and instant gratification? And don’t we risk driving even more people away by asking them to give up anything for church?

I wonder.

I mean, people are already sacrificing. I know a lot of parents who give up nearly every weekend for their kids’ travelling sports team. And I know lots of career-minded folks who put in long hours in jobs they don’t love in order to secure their futures or just to make ends meet. Lots of people are spending hard-earned money to join a gym or participate in diet programs to get healthier. And how many of us sacrifice in order to make sure their kids are dressed well and have a chance for further education?

And please hear me, I’m not criticizing any of these choices. But I do want to ask why we make these and other sacrifices. I believe it’s because these things are important to us. You sacrifice according to your priorities. And in today’s passage Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God he proclaims and the kingdom life he exemplifies should be a priority, actually be THE PRIORITY. So maybe we should contemporize Jesus’ parable a bit and ask, “What parent wouldn’t count the cost before signing up for the traveling soccer team and what new employee wouldn’t consider whether she is willing to work every weekend her first year?” Do you see what I mean? We are already making sacrifices, and in this passage, Jesus is saying that Christian discipleship calls for the same.

So friends, so as we begin a new season of the year. I want to ask you to make sacrifices for your faith journey with this congregation. Imagine that church is as important as ice hockey or soccer?

Imagine that that participating in the life of the congregation matters just like our career do?

Imagine if we share our time working in this community as we do attending professional sporting events

Look, I get it. My family is involved in extracurricular activities like Boy Scouts, School Choir and lesson plans take time. And so we have at times made that a priority to the exclusion of church activities. But over the long haul I also want my family to have a life marked by relationship with God, by confidence in God’s love for us and all the world, and by the knowledge that whatever may happen or wherever they may go, God is with them.

And that takes sacrifice.

This Sunday is for us the first Sunday of a new program year. Lots of things get going this week — from school activities to community events — that will demand we make sacrifices.

I’m asking you to allow Jesus’ words in this passage to get equal time, to ask each of us to look at the long arc of our lives and ask what is important, what we hope for our families. Not simply because they should, but because the abundant life and way of discipleship that Jesus both promises and announces also takes sacrifice — not to earn God’s grace but to live into the discipleship life that grace makes possible.

This isn’t about our eternal destiny, Friends, God has already taken care of that. This is about the caliber and character of our Christian lives. And, like anything else worth doing, discipleship takes time, energy, work, and practice — in a word, it takes sacrifice.

Commentary provided by Lynn Japinga, David McKim, David Schnasa Jacobsen, Karoline Smith, David Lose and Laura Mariko Cheifetz.